GWeb adds instant messenger

GWeb is well on its way to becoming the main online portal of the GW community with the addition of its newest feature, an instant messaging service. Many new links have been added to the portal, including news, weather, a comprehensive online directory, movie listings, live campus cams and personalized schedules.

As of Friday, GWeb registered users gained access to the instant messenger, which was purchased last month from Bantu, an Internet programming company. It opens up a new way of communicating between registered GWeb users, enabling chat common to other instant messaging systems.

The messenger is compatible with AOL, ICQ, Yahoo and MSN messengers. GWEB users are able to centralize their IM services by using the buddy lists from all these other services together in the GWeb interface.

Francesco de Leo, manager of the Interactive Multimedia Applications Group, which is a team within GW’s Information System and Services Department, said the service came at little cost to the University.

“We got it really, really cheap because they were looking to use our name in their list of clients. We paid 2 percent of what they charged other companies,” de Leo said.

Since the beginning of the fall 2001 semester, GWeb has accumulated about 7,500 registered users. The system has the capacity for 25,000 users, including students, staff, faculty and alumni.

“If you build something that has enough features and information, it will interest individuals,” de Leo said.

With the Bantu IM service, GW students, staff, faculty and alumni can collaborate for project teamwork, online office hours, research discussions and casual conversations.

“This technology opens up an array of possibilities for efficient collaboration between many people,” de Leo said.

When GWeb users talk to their buddies on other programs, those buddies will see the GWeb user as if he were logged onto the other program. What is making the Bantu version of IM popular among large corporations is its secure format. The chat occurs through the intranet and is encrypted for privacy, unlike programs like AOL IM, which is open, de Leo said.

One of GWeb’s major goals has been to “cut through lines of frustration on campus,” de Leo said.

“Everything is going to the internet,” de Leo said. “The Web is just better performing and more efficient. You could read class descriptions by the click of a mouse or view a panoramic of the room you are about to choose.”

He cited online registration, housing selection and SA elections as examples of how GWeb will make life easier for students. Online registration began in 1999, and an online SA election and housing lottery is slated to begin this year, although programmers are having trouble allowing students to pick specific rooms for the housing selection (see story, p. 1).

“Moving these processes onto the internet gives students more control and less confusion,” de Leo added.

The GWeb system is divided into two parts: the GWeb Portal and the GWeb Information Systems. The portal offers interactive content, including newspaper headlines, while the Information Systems displays personal information such as grades and financial aid information.

“In the long run, I hope that we have provided a central place that users will rely on for personalized content delivery and that we have enabled the University to efficiently reach out to their constituencies,” de Leo said.

Students said they are impressed by additions they noticed at GWeb, but many did not know about some of the newest features.

“I like GWeb a lot. It is easy to get to my e-mail and Prometheus from there, and I also like to read my horoscope sometimes,” freshman Tess Kehoe said. “But I never heard of an instant messenger.”

De Leo also said that poorly placed features and non-aggressive advertising are weaknesses of the portal.

“We didn’t want to advertise too much at first because we wanted to make sure the system was working well and it could handle the usage,” he said.

He also said GW plans to increase their advertising campaign for GWeb in coordination with the unveiling of the new GW Web Site Feb. 22.

Another relatively new feature of GWeb is the ability for the heads of student organizations to set up administrative accounts. The feature will enable the leaders to update information that will be duplicated and displayed to the individuals that identify themselves as part of these groups.

“One thousand four hundred information providers can publish their data,” de Leo said. “It is very easy to publish in the portal.”

One of the most popular features is the new Web cameras available through GWeb. There is a static camera overlooking the Quad and a camera overlooking Kogan Plaza that gives users control to move the camera and zoom in on live shots.

“We got an e-mail from a parent who thanked us for this feature, because now she has set an appointment time with her child so she can log on and see her in real time, even though she is very far away,” de Leo said.

He also said the cameras’ zooming capabilities have been decreased to respect students’ privacy.

“You don’t want your parents be able to zoom in and catch you smoking a cigarette or something like that,” de Leo said.

Privacy concerns could arise when people log into a system like GWeb, but de Leo said there is nothing to worry about it.

“All we know is if you are logged in or not. We do not check activity of where you are clicking or anything like that,” he said.

The composition of GWeb is constantly changing and improving, he said.

“People keep asking what is next, and that is where many of our good ideas are coming from,” de Leo said. “With what we have set up here with GWeb, the possibilities are endless. We are just trying to make as many uses as possible.”

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